Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Bridge to Terabithia--a Newberry Book Review

Bridge on marble mountain

As I said in my last post, I've been able to read a lot more lately. The house is quieter and the long days help me read later into the night. I love June. For reasons, I cannot quite put my finger on, I've been posting less but c'est la vie.
Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson was published in 1977 but I was just past the age where I was reading a lot of children's literature. At the time I was reading adult mysteries, fantasy and sci-fi, and historical novels by the cartload. But I missed this Newberry winner.
The cover of the book states: Now a major motion picture. Read it before you see it!
I haven't seen the movie but the trailers led me to believe this was a fantasy story. Well, it isn't.
Bridge is a classic children's story. Two lonely kids meet each other and a beautiful friendship ensues, despite a certain unlikelihood to their friendship. The relationship broadens both their lives and changes them as people.
Terabithia is a fantasy world they share but it is merely the world of childhood day dreams. They create a little castle and fairy-tale kingdom and have a rich play life there. There are no encounters with "actual" fairies of the good or malignant type. This is just life, as it could have happened, to you or me when we were ten years old.
Bridge is a lovely little story. The kids are well-drawn with a few teachers and parents thrown in to ice the cake. It reads true to the experience of childhood. Even as an adult, it is pleasant to journey back to those days in a novel. Not that I want to be ten again, ever. Been there, done that.
I finished the story last night. I don't want to give away the ending but, suffice to say, there is a loss there. It caused me a sniffle or two and a lot of thought about why so many people die or are absent in children's novels.
As examples: Harry Potter--he's an orphan; his godfather dies; his mentor dies. The teasers for the new book say the author "kills off some characters." Call It Courage--book review pending, also a Newberry--mother dies. Kira Kira--another Newberry I owe a review on, I don't want to give it away but someone dies; old classics I remember crying over as a kid--Little Women--Beth dies; Bambi (the book)--mother dies; and so on.
Now, it's not that I don't "get" it. The stories help children process feelings of loss. They also help them process the wicked thoughts they have, the wish that a parent or sibling would drop dead. But still. What about happy endings? In Lord of the Rings, admittedly an adult fantasy series, but I read them as a teen, Gandalf comes back from the dead. I was so happy when that happened. I got all the pleasure of mourning him and the satisfaction of knowing that "The rumors of my death have been greatly exaggerated," as Mark Twain said.
But unabashedly happy books rarely win Newberry Medals. So I guess I just need to "get a life." Or is it more apt to say, literary life stinks and then you die?


Kathe said...

The movie is good. But you're right in that they advertise it as being more of a fantasy than it really is. Hayley and I were both surprised they didn't have more fantasy scenes in the movie. But we enjoyed it anyway.

Literary Feline said...

I recently obtained a copy of Bridge to Terabithia and hope to read it in the near future. I have yet to see the movie. Maybe after I read the book.

I do not read a lot of children's literature anymore, but you are right. It does seem like death is a common theme in several of the award winning books. You see that in adult fiction too.